Brendan Fraser's Complete Transformation Through The Years

Brendan Fraser has returned to Hollywood. At 54, the actor stands in stark contrast to his all-too-familiar lean, topless form that millennial nostalgia inevitably relates to his "George of the Jungle" days of yore. That was the 1990s era, when Fraser had hit the ground running and almost immediately taken off as an actor, his lofty frame a receptacle of slapstick humor that made fans laugh year upon year. Aware of the emotion he embodied for a whole generation, Fraser summarized it concisely: "In their words, they say I was their childhood" (via GQ). He had an impressive run at the movies for about two decades, after which he seemed to have gradually taken a backseat. But was he ever gone?

If you ask him, you're likely to hear the refrain he is echoing across Hollywood since his extraordinary revival on the big screen: "I've just never been that far away" (via the Associated Press). "The Whale," which premiered amidst much fanfare at the Venice Film Festival in 2022, had Fraser take on his most challenging and divergent role yet. A powerful comeback embedded between teary standing ovations, consequential Oscar buzz, emotional fan tributes, and a world of support — there just couldn't have been a grander welcome for Fraser!

A worthy contender for the post of Hollywood's nicest guy, Fraser has traced quite a journey on and off camera. As he makes his way into people's hearts once again, here's looking at Brendan Fraser's complete transformation through the years. 

He lived a nomadic childhood

Brendan Fraser has been a global citizen since the beginning. Born in Indiana, Fraser never remained rooted in a single place, with the nature of his tourism executive father's job taking the family across continents. His position with the Canadian government had Fraser Sr. intercepting a bulk of instructions from the capital city of Ottawa, which prompted his son to innocently believe that "Ottawa was like a guy who sat behind a desk, and he had a dart, and a map, and he went 'Mmmph, let's send the Fraser family to . . . boomp, the Hague'" (via IndyStar). 

Fraser soaked in a multicultural upbringing, moving between schools in Europe, Canada, and the United States where he picked up on world languages, per The New York Times. He was, for a while, even enrolled in a boarding school in Toronto — not the best of occurrences to happen to him. "I didn't fit in. ... We were like gang members in suits and ties," he said, recalling his time there. 

Like his father, Fraser secured dual American-Canadian citizenship. Though his most renowned work ties him to the American film industry, Fraser's significance is deeply recognized in Canada as well; the actor was honored with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2006, CBC reported. A tribute to Fraser on a sidewalk in Toronto had been many years in the making, with an affinity for the performing arts gnawing at him since his youth. 

His film career started off with a bang

Few actors have secured a foothold in Hollywood as early in their careers as Brendan Fraser did. The veteran actor, whom the Academy nominated for a Best Actor award only after 30 years in the industry, originally got a start on television. After a spate of barely memorable roles through 1991 — in television productions like "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" and "My Old School," plus even a minor role in the film "Dogfight" (via IMDb) — Fraser sought to find his place among the stars. 

He was only 21 when he landed in Hollywood and before reaching the milestone age of 25, he had starred in his first significant role as Link, a city-dwelling caveman, in the 1992 film "Encino Man." Fraser revealed that he was initially hesitant to take on a role as "kooky" as this one because his theater degree had set him up to aspire for a more serious tone of acting (via YouTube). 

That same year, Fraser also headlined "School Ties," sharing the screen with fellow newbies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Ask Fraser about his kickoff success, and he says only: "I guess I got lucky" (via The New York Times). Over the three-decade span of his career, Fraser experimented with a range of genres — from the 1995 horror "The Passion of Darkly Noon" to voiceovers for animations like "Looney Tunes" – but asserted his dominance most popularly in the area of performative, gag-infused comedies.

The late '90s were Fraser's golden period

It's impossible to reminisce about cinema from the 1990s without getting nostalgic about a young Brendan Fraser. So inextricably seeped is he in the cultural zeitgeist of that bygone era. Early films like "Encino Man" established him as a skilled artist to take note of, while Fraser's star status was unshakeably cemented in the latter half of the decade. 

In 1997, when he starred as a spoofy kin of the feral child prototype in "George of the Jungle," Fraser became synonymous with a particular brand of cinema that blended fantasy action and comedy. Though the physical demands transformed him into a "walking steak," Fraser was pleased about playing "king of the jungle" (via The Morning Call). Dramas like "Still Breathing" and "Gods and Monsters" followed before "The Mummy" catapulted Fraser to the heights of his success. The 1999 adventure film opened with a smashing $43.4 million at the box office, its sequel in 2001 faring an even better debut at $68.1 million, per ABC News

Fraser found his niche in what he called "the babe in the woods, the fish out of water, the new guy" genre (via GQ). Though the marketability of Fraser's films relied on entertainment, their impact was also socially profound. As the Los Angeles Times observed, one of Fraser's first films "School Ties" preached inclusivity and schools in the United States were more than willing to screen it inside classrooms as a lesson on identity and diversity. 

He thinks he's quite a boring guy

If there's anything we know about Brendan Fraser, the man is disarmingly self-effacing. For someone whose comedic genius has kept audiences entertained for over three decades, he is modest about his bearing. "I'm very boring," he told The Guardian in 2008, the year he reprised his beloved role as one of America's favorite adventurers, Rick O'Connell, the third time over. "People don't like me, they like the movies. Me personally? Yawn." 

It would take a decade for Fraser's theory to be disproved, with fans worldwide rooting for him as he embarked upon his second innings in cinema with "The Whale." But at the time, his initial career peak seemed to play havoc with his self-esteem. "I think on some level I felt I deserved [a beating] and wanted to be the one who got in the first punch," Fraser said about the strain that shadowed his early run (via The Telegraph).

He's also convinced that there's not a funny bone in his body (via GQ): "I have no idea how to be funny. I don't know why people may think I am." Um, might we remind him of the breadth of his comedies, from "Encino Man" to "Airheads," that still sets fans rolling in the aisles? Even Adam Sandler, his co-star from the latter film, can testify that Fraser is the real deal (via Entertainment Weekly): "He's just so smart, such a deep guy, and he's such a loving sweetheart." 

He went through a messy divorce with ex-wife Afton Smith

After a decade of marital bliss, actor couple Brendan Fraser and Afton Smith parted ways in 2007. While a statement at the time claimed that the pair "continue to maintain a close and caring friendship" (via Just Jared), things soon soured after their marriage ended. Though their divorce settlement dated to 2009, court proceedings reportedly continued for several years after, with disputed claims over Fraser's finances. By 2013, Smith was accusing Fraser of "fraud" for allegedly concealing the worth of his assets, while Fraser pushed for the court to reduce the annual amount of $900,000 he paid towards Smith's alimony and child support (per the New York Post). 

At the time of the settlement, Fraser had expressed doubt over any major earnings from films in the future, citing health issues as a foreseeable hurdle to taking on many projects. However, as TMZ reported, Afton hit back quoting Fraser's $25 million net worth, claiming that the actor had made big bucks with films like "Extraordinary Measure." 

While things ended on an unpleasant note for the couple, who first met each other in 1993, Fraser still shares a relationship with the children he had with Smith. His sons Griffin, Holden, and Leland live with their mother but don't miss a beat when it comes to marking major milestones with Fraser. The actor revealed that the boys snuck into his house to surprise him after his Oscar nomination for "The Whale" (via Extra).

He claims Hollywood blacklisted him after he spoke against sexual assault

Hollywood hasn't been the smoothest of journeys for Brendan Fraser. Wedged between the physical extremes he accomplished, from his time as "George of the Jungle" to "The Whale," lies an unpleasant allegation of sexual assault that apparently left the deepest scars. In 2003, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosted a charity event where Fraser was present. Philip Berk, a longtime associate and former president of the HFPA, allegedly "grabbed the actor's buttocks" at the event, The New York Times reported. Though Berk denied the allegation, he rendered Fraser a written apology at the time. Fraser spoke about the long-buried incident in 2018: "His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint," he told GQ

Well into his 30s then, Fraser was emotionally affected by the groping episode and revealed that it led to depression. He told his then-wife Afton Smith what had transpired but didn't publicize the story in the media. "I was blaming myself and I was miserable," Fraser said. HFPA, the all-powerful organization behind the Golden Globes, seemingly took a backseat, prompting Fraser to believe that his confrontation with Berk might have played a role in his being blacklisted. Per The Guardian, the HFPA cut ties with Berk in 2021 after he referred to Black Lives Matter as a "racist hate movement." Even so, Fraser has said he won't ever make his way back to the Globes. 

From choking to starving, he has gone to extreme lengths for his craft

What lengths can you go to for your passion? Brendan Fraser is willing to test the extremes of his physical and mental tolerance, all for the sake of his craft. His golden status in the late 1990s as the fantasy audience's favorite blue-eyed boy didn't come without hard resolve. In "George of the Jungle," one of Fraser's defining roles, he paraded on screen with a chiselled form covered by nothing but a modest loincloth — a feat that came at the cost of a frugal diet and brain fuzz. He told Variety that during the shoot, he was "starved of carbohydrates," an endeavor that wreaked havoc on his memory and caused his brain to misfire. 

Fast forward two decades and Fraser, in his big screen comeback, leaned towards the other end of the spectrum by playing a 600-pound man. Much of that weight was courtesy of a prosthetic suit that left Fraser feeling physically and emotionally challenged. "I even felt a sense of vertigo at the end of the day when all the appliances were removed," Fraser told the press (via Outlook). 

Playing the iconic adventurer Rick O'Connell naturally involved adventure — perhaps a bit too much. Fraser revealed that he "fully choked-out" when the noose around his neck tightened beyond endurance while filming a scene for "The Mummy" (via Entertainment Weekly). The close-call incident apparently knocked Fraser out, prompting him to call timeout for the day. 

'The Whale' marked his comeback as a leading man after 12 years

If you live on the internet, there's no chance you could have missed the tremendously viral video of Brendan Fraser tearing up before a crowd breaking out in loud applause for him. This emotional moment from the 2022 Venice Film Festival was just one of many standing ovations for Fraser, who marked a glorious return to cinema (in a manner of speaking) as a leading man after 12 whole years. Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale" has ushered in a long-awaited epoch of what fans are calling the Brenaissance, with Fraser — the quintessential Hollywood hero of the 1990s — in his "most heroic" role yet as a severely obese, isolated teacher (via The Guardian). 

The biggest challenge for director Aronofsky, meanwhile, was the casting. It took about a decade before he found his perfect lead in Fraser, who, for the most part after 2010, had retreated to supporting roles in films. Amid tears and gratitude for the rousing response to his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a three-decade-long career, Fraser is also using "The Whale" as an opportunity to talk about ending bias against people with obesity. Getting into a 600-pound frame took a physical toll on Fraser to the point of vertigo, but it also conceived in him a newfound respect for people of similar weight (via Variety). Per Fraser, "You need to be an incredibly strong person, mentally and physically, to inhabit that physical being." 

He seems to share a special bond with the youth

Brendan Fraser is a nice guy. Perhaps the nicest guy in town — if GQ magazine is to be believed. Beloved for decades only to have his appeal renewed for a fresh era heralded by the critically acclaimed "The Whale," Fraser exudes an affability that is hard not to like. His easygoing affinity to humor the younger audience is a dead giveaway of his agreeable nature. Fraser's impact on the collective childhood during the 1990s and early millennium cannot be overstated and is increasingly being attested to. In 2022, well ahead of the outpouring "The Whale" would unleash, a viral TikTok video showed a young fan meeting Fraser and voicing the thought of millions with a single statement (via Bored Panda): "Thank you for making my childhood awesome!" 

The gesture left Fraser visibly moved — just one of several touching moments when realization struck that fans were wholeheartedly rooting for him. Emotions similarly ran high during an online meet and greet when Fraser was told, "There are so many people out there who love you" (per Insider). The support showered on him is no match for the encouragement Fraser graces youngsters with. From admiring children as the best actors (via People) to gushing unrestrained about his junior colleagues — "She's the genuine article," he said in praise of 20-year-old Sadie Sink, his co-star in "The Whale" (via Interview) — Fraser seems like that endearing uncle everyone loves to have around!  

He has faced more than his fair share of health struggles

Not one to flaunt his private affairs, Brendan Fraser has existed quietly in his off-hours from being an actor, rarely allowing his health struggles to make it to the public domain. During the 2010 decade that he seemed to have withdrawn from his status as leading man, Fraser was actually attending to his physical well-being that action movies had left disfigured. "I was put together with tape and ice ... I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily," he told GQ, recalling the strain on his body while shooting the third instalment in "The Mummy" franchise. He wasn't one to pass his stunts on to a double: "And that took a lot out of me. I knew I would get better, but it took a long time" (via The Telegraph). 

The injuries culminated in Fraser having to seek multiple surgeries on the breadth of his body, from his back to his knee and even his vocal cords, over seven years. Around the same time, a few extra pounds noticeable on Fraser's towering frame became the talk of town, with outlets like Daily Mail acerbically remarking on the "return of the tummy." The good-humored actor, who showed off his paunchy form in "Furry Vengeance," said that the 2010 slapstick comedy warranted "a bigger butt" and that he was taking the banter over his weight in a positive spirit (via Parade). Plus, he wasn't stepping on scales: "I don't believe them." 

He takes a keen interest in archery and photography

Brendan Fraser is a jack of many trades — and has mastered them all. As an actor, he reaffirmed his foothold in the industry with his latest outing "The Whale" earning him a shiny smattering of nominations and an emotional thundering of applause. In delayed recognition of his acting skill set, "The Whale" brought home a long-deserved Academy nomination for Fraser, who underwent a dramatic transformation for the 2022 film. "You should go toward the danger, where the most growth will come, and often where the most interesting choices are made," an undaunted Fraser believes (via Entertainment Weekly). 

His sage wisdom is also fitting in the context of his extracurricular activities with bows and arrows: archery. His interest in the sport piqued when, researching for a role, he chanced upon famed marksman William Tell (via "Long story short, I picked up an English longbow and went out in the backyard, started firing at tree stumps," related Fraser.  

While archery helps him calm down, per GQ, Fraser isn't anywhere close to applying his skill to hunting. Photography is among his more practical interests that he can indulge in. As his cinematic line of work took him places across the world where he found himself in extraordinary locales, Fraser found his calling to go behind the lens (via the Los Angeles Times). Purposefully, he picked up the camera in the late 1990s, ultimately substantiating his craft with a photography exhibition in 2003.